If it's 'best for team,' Smoltz says he's open to trade talk

ATLANTA -- John Smoltz said he's ready to leave Atlanta if a trade can help the last-place Braves.

The 17-year veteran, who's played his entire career in Atlanta, said his once-firm opinion against leaving the Braves changed this year. But he said he still hopes to finish his career in Atlanta.

The Braves, who began a three-game series with Toronto on Tuesday night, have lost seven straight games and 17 of 20 to fall to last place in the NL East. If the tumble in the standings changes the Braves' focus in the trade market from buyers to sellers, Smoltz said, "I'm open to whatever is best for the team."

Smoltz downplayed his comments that he originally made in an ESPN interview Sunday, saying he was only answering "the old if question, if they asked you to be traded."

"I said, 'Two years ago I wouldn't have thought about it,' " he said. "I'm not an idiot. If it happens, I'd be open to it. That's it."

The Braves hold an $8 million option on Smoltz, 39, for the 2007 season, the same salary the right-hander is earning this year.

"We don't want any of our main guys going anywhere," teammate Tim Hudson said. "We want to be in a situation where we will be buyers and not sellers and it's on our backs to make sure that doesn't happen. We've got to start turning it around and giving those guys reason to be buyers and not sellers."

Smoltz is 4-5 with a 3.78 ERA. He was 14-7 with a 3.06 ERA last year in his return to the starting rotation.

Smoltz, the career leader in postseason wins with a 15-4 record and 2.66 ERA, would likely draw considerable interest from contending teams, perhaps including his hometown Detroit Tigers.

But Braves general manager John Schuerholz said he doesn't expect the comments from Smoltz to generate trade inquiries.

"I really doubt it. They know our organization," Schuerholz said. "The best way for them to realize or to assume the Braves are
interested in making a deal is if I were to call them."

Smoltz also said he doesn't expect his comments to lead to serious trade offers, saying it's just talk. He said he was surprised in the interest in his comments, saying, "I got a chuckle out of it."

Some of his teammates were not laughing, however.

"I don't know that as a teammate of his and a guy that wants to have the best chance to win, it's not what I want to hear, obviously," Hudson said.

Third baseman Chipper Jones said the questions about Smoltz could be based on more than speculation.

"Where there's smoke, there's fire," Jones said. "I think we all first and foremost are loyal to our team. If someone finds it important enough to approach a player and pose them the question, then obviously it has been bantered about upstairs."

Those questions have extended all the way to the kids in Smoltz's annual baseball camp this week. Smoltz said one camper asked him Tuesday morning if the Braves were mathematically eliminated from the playoff chase.

"Things change. Times change," Smoltz said. "I'm happy. Very happy. I would like to be in first place, but as I told the camper today, we're not mathematically eliminated."

But the Braves would need a dramatic turnaround to return to the playoffs. Smoltz was part of the Braves' 1990 team, which finished 67-95 and in last place in the NL West, but the team has since won 14 straight division titles.

Smoltz is the only player to have been a member of each of the playoff teams.

"I can say without a shadow of a doubt John would love nothing more than to finish his career here," Jones said, "but times have changed and economics have changed and a lot of guys don't know which way the organization is going to go."

Smoltz said he plans on playing at least one more season.

"I'm healthy. I'm excited about the future," he said. "Whereas maybe two years ago it looked a little more difficult for me. And everyone knows my personal desire. ... Obviously, my desire is to stay here."